An official website of the United States government

Ambassador Sepulveda in Miami on Future of Internet Governance
May 22, 2014

Internet Governance Futures — Impact of Brazil Conference and Looking Forward

Telecommunications and Media Forum LatAm, International Institute of Communications
Remarks by Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda

U.S. Department of State
Miami, Florida
May 21, 2014

Remarks as prepared

Thank you David. As always, I appreciate your guidance, friendship, and support. A nuestros amigos de America Latina, bienvenidos a Miami.

This city has always served as a bridge between the United States and our friends to the South. And I hope that here, we can continue to deepen the discussion and alliance between leaders across government and industry in the region in favor of a free, open, and global Internet.

We think that NETmundial, the global multistakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance, held in Sao Paulo last month, took us a long way in that direction. It recognized that the Internet is a global resource which should be managed in the public interest and committed all but a few of its global participants committed to a future for Internet governance rooted in common principles and endorsed the multistakeholder process for addressing future challenges.

We know that over the next year, in other forums, the opponents of the decentralized system of multistakeholder Internet governance will challenge the NETmundial commitment and try to replace it with centralized multilateral control. In fact, they have already tried to downplay the significance of NETmundial at the recent annual meeting of the ITU and the 17th Session of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

It is our responsibility as governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia to ensure that the multistakeholder alliance strengthens and grows, particularly in the Americas, and build upon the progress made in Brazil.

During the last year, I visited a Telefonica tech incubator in Mexico where young Mexican entrepreneurs are using the global Internet to create and deliver new services. I listened to the success story that is Colombia’s Plan Vive Digital. And I witnessed the multistakeholder Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, or CGI, process in action in Sao Paulo.

At NETmundial, I met and spoke with the officials from Chile and Argentina about these issues as well and I know they are true in their desire for cooperation and collaboration.

This region has embraced and is practicing and perfecting its commitment to an Internet Protocol-based future for communications and to the multistakeholder process for deliberation and decision making on Internet governance.

We all know that the root of the Internet’s growth and success is the freedom the platform enables for communications and commerce. And without the active and enfranchised participation of all stakeholders in its governance, that freedom and our future are at risk.

NETmundial, to the credit of its organizers, was an example of the multistakeholder process in action and development. It created a space for us to find common ground and allowed us to further identify, examine, and debate the thorny Internet-related issues that remain of concern to people from the developing world, civil society, and the business community.

The final product of the Brazil meeting, the Multistakeholder Statement of Sao Paulo, established some agreement for a way forward. It:

1. reaffirmed the multistakeholder model of Internet governance as the first principle of Internet governance;

2. endorsed the transition of the U.S. Government’s stewardship role of IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community, consistent with our stated principles;

3. emphasized the importance of strengthening and expanding upon the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum; and

4. underscored the importance of human rights in the implementation of a free and open Internet.

These four outcomes constitute a big win for the open Internet and its supporters. But our work is not yet complete.

We will engage the debate in more difficult venues later this year, including at the ITU where only governments are authorized to make decisions and where the opponents of NETmundial, already trying to downplay it significance, will try to regain lost ground.

The ITU is an important international institution to the proper functioning of international telecommunications, particularly for radio spectrum allocations, satellite management, and the wireless space. But it is often seen as a place that authoritarian governments can push their agenda for intergovernmental control of the Internet. These countries fear the freedom and loss of power that the Internet facilitates by enabling freedom of expression and access to information. As a result, these authoritarian countries manipulate the legitimate concerns of other countries when it comes to cybersecurity and the digital divide to win favor for increasing the mandate of the UN or ITU over the Internet, where they believe traditional notions of state sovereignty will allow them to control how and whether their people access and use the Internet..

The United States has and will continue to oppose any proposal towards that objective, but importantly, so should the nations of the global South that embrace democracy, economic and social development, innovation, free expression, and open and competitive markets. We must also take steps to make Internet-related discussions at the ITU transparent and open to all stakeholders, consistent with the principles we agreed to at NETmundial.

I am responsible for leading the U.S. delegations to ITU events all over the world and believe that mobilizing our friends to join us in common cause, in defense of the multistakeholder system of Internet governance is of vital importance for the future of the Internet. I believe that the best way we can do that is by helping meet the real needs of the countries working to strengthen their Internet infrastructures and encouraging the multistakeholder Internet governance institutions themselves to evolve and become stronger and more inclusive.

As an Administration, we have a process and a strategy for achieving that end.

As a matter of process, the NSC in the person of Michael Daniel, the White House Cybersecurity Coordinator, brings together the leading players within the Administration on a regular basis including Assistant Secretary Strickling, Secretary Kerry’s Cyber Coordinator Chris Painter, me, and our colleagues from the FCC, DoD, DHS, DoJ, and other interested agencies.

Together, we have identified key issues of debate in the Internet governance discussion, from ICANN’s operations, to the role of the ITU, to the changing nature of regional and local challenges on issues from privacy to cybersecurity to broadband deployment.

We have conducted an inventory of ideas that have been offered for changes to the system, including those suggested by countries that have very different conceptions of how the Internet should be governed that we do. We have evaluated those ideas and constructed alternatives to the ones that we think would undermine what is good about the Internet and the existing system of Internet governance. We are committed to bridging the digital divide, improving Cybersecurity, and finding solutions when issues are raised about domain names.

This is an ongoing process and one we will continue to refine throughout the year. We will be prepared for debate in Korea this fall when members of the ITU gather for the quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference. We will have answers to many of the concerns raised by other governments and we will collaborate closely with our friends to address those concerns in a meaningful manner.

When the Internet’s founders initiated the project that eventually became the Internet, it was a space where only academics and the technically advanced operated. When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was created in the late 1990s, that community had grown impressively, but there were still only 400,000 people on the platform.

By the time a young Ambassador David Gross led the American delegation to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 and 2005, those numbers had skyrocketed into the millions. And a short ten years after that, with close to 3 billion people on the platform and the Internet considered a vital global resource, the pressure on the Internet governance system is mounting, and demands for its increased democratization are growing. And it can and should become more democratic without becoming more centralized.

The Internet has changed the way human beings worldwide deliberate, communicate, organize, educate, work, live, govern, and entertain ourselves. It is perfectly reasonable for the world’s Internet users to ask for consideration in the mechanisms by which the Internet is governed. The Internet is no longer the sole providence of western democracies nor will the majority of its future growth occur in our markets.

The United States neither owns nor controls the Internet. And it would be incredibly arrogant and counterproductive to argue that we should. The Internet belongs to everyone. And for it to continue to grow and flourish, all of us, including everyone in this room, must take vocal ownership of our stake in the multi-stakeholder model.

That is our challenge. We must enable greater global participation in Internet governance in a way that results in more people participating in the system rather than concentrating power in the hands of a few governments or any one institution. We are committed to that task, it a good and honorable goal, and we look forward to working with you to achieve it.